The age of the bromance isn’t over yet for the four dudes of Seattle’s Mad Rad. The crew may still be battling a bleary hangover two years after their debut release, but their sophomore album, The Youth Die Young is not so much an abandonment of the burn-down-this-club energy as much as a pause in their wild and destructive night. The album, out tomorrow, is more balanced in its intensity than its predecessor, but shrouded in a disquieting self reflection that has them poised on the brink. Whether they’re headed to further abandon or imploding meltdown is unclear.
Buffalo Madonna, Terry Radjaw, P Smoov and DJ Darin burst onto the eclectic Seattle hip-hop scene with 2008’s White Gold, a raucous, electro-drenched effort that provided dance fodder for their infamous live performances. Through 2009, Mad Rad became the band to see in the city—not necessarily for their music, but for their aggressive, fuck-it-all concerts.
With The Youth Die Young, the group steps away from their title as local villain in a quest to capture their youth, both exuberant and sinister. For their follow-up, Mad Rad hasn’t abandoned the attitude that got them kicked out of multiple venues, seen with the partying salvo “Party Mountain” and the screamingly vulgar “I Want Your Blood.” More than any track, opener “Caveman,” with its maelstrom of synth crescendos and keyboard flourishes is an affirmation of Mad Rad’s uncontainable ethos. The chorus “Fuck you, that’s how we do around here” embraces their show-brawling life, resistant to critiques that the quartet should clean up and become “serious.”
Despite this defiance, the band has grown since White Gold. Lyrically, the rappers are best when exploring that murkiness between the cresting high and strung-out crash. Introspective takes on relationships and drug use produce some of the band’s most chilling work: Over strings and a troubling backing synth line, Mad Rad swims through a prescription drug haze in “Underwater.” “I have a pharmacy in my apartment sponsored by the American government/Pops got cancer, insurance can’t cover it/Selling your drugs is my health coverage.” The drug-riddled relationship detailed in subsequent “Love in a Strange World” makes the album’s latter, more morose half an intriguing time capsule of Mad Rad’s youth.
The darker shift is aided by an increase in the singing, usually in the form of a somber baritone sandwiched between the bursts of razor-sharp rapped verses. Mad Rad won’t be beating the Fleet Foxes in an a cappella concert anytime soon, but the layered vocals are an appropriately sloppy contrast for their content. It works in the drunken anthem “My Friends,” a fitting, if lyrically sparse tribute to their fans and origins, and also in the titular track. The raspy chorus of “The Youth Die Young” brings together the optimistic handclaps, halting dance line and lounge piano in a decadent swirl.
Thankfully, the new Mad Rad hasn’t lost their confidence in contemplation. In standouts “Epiphany” and the philosophical “The Machine” the foursome asserts that even aware of the drawbacks, they’re doing exactly what they want to do. Brashly, they declare in “The Machine:” “And I know I’m doing something right with these friends and this girl.” Similarly, in “Epiphany” the group refuses to turn back on each other or their lifestyle, no matter the consequences. Because, as they say, “You only live once.”
The Youth Die Young isn’t the eternal party of the drunken mind that was White Gold, and earlier fans might be put off by the album’s second half. If anything, the drawback of the album is that these songs pack on malaise that might not translate to their high-energy live shows. It’s a step the band needed to take, however, since the revelry of their first album couldn’t last forever.
Catch Mad Rad at their CD release party at Seattle’s Neumos on Friday, Dec. 3 with Champagne Champagne. For everyone else, The Youth Die Young is in stories Tuesday, Nov. 30.
Mad Rad- Epiphany (download)
Mad Rad- Underwater (download)
A version of this review will appear in The Stanford Daily on Wednesday, Dec. 1.